In a time before kids and responsibilities, my Geordie friend and I would endure being screamed at in a spin class by Monsieur Motivateur, so we could follow it with a guilt-free plate of cheese at our favourite Geneva haunt. As the wine flowed we’d rattle on about our life abroad. To our friends back home we had a pretty rosy existence. Glamorous, highly paid jobs in a beautiful setting, with skiing in the alps every weekend in the winter and hiking trips in the summer.
Writing this now I am thinking what on earth was there to moan about. I’m rolling my eyes at the old me. But still we hankered after elements of our past lives in the UK. Of course we missed our families and friends, but we were so inundated with visitors that we felt like putting up a B&B sign at the front door! It was the small, inconsequential things we pined for. We’d list off the things we day-dreamed about – a pub Sunday roast, Marks and Spencers food hall, clothes shopping, the buzz of London’s streets. I once even cited Lurpak spreadable butter and Robinson’s squash as reasons for missing home. Seriously. Here I was living in the land of gourmet food and stunning scenery, there was something obviously wrong with me. But overtime I came to understand that it was just the ‘easy’ that I sometimes craved. That comfort you feel when watching old episodes of Friends. No thinking required, you can just relax with the characters you know and love.
After many a night in the bar a vin we came to the conclusion that by living abroad we had chosen a path with more hills and dips than if we had stayed back home in the UK. We started to refer to these as our ‘tens and twos’. Tens were swimming in glacial lakes, cycling through vineyards at the annual wine fair, impromptu weekends in Provence. Twos were quite simply missing home. Of course there were lots of humdrum moments too but the extreme highs and lows arose much more often than when we had lived back home. Our favourite topic of conversation became which we thought was better. Tens and twos or fair to middling.
Over a decade later, after a brief interlude back in London, I’m still here and I’m still having that same conversation. Only it’s with myself now as my Geordie friend left, trading diamonds for teaching and loving it. This internal debate drives me to distraction. Life naturally has changed. I’m a mum of three now. The glamorous job has long gone as have the romantic weekends away. Skiing has become something I mostly dread as it usually involves screaming kids with lost gloves and snotty noses. But there are still plenty of tens – glimpsing the jagged outline of the French Alps on the morning drive to school, jumping off a jetty in to the ice cold lake, the smell of the boys’ sun-kissed little bodies during the endless summers. All such beautiful moments.
Now though the twos hit harder as we miss the support of family and close friends. When the kids get sick or we just want a break from the craziness of having three small boys; it’s then we reach a low point. It’s self inflicted of course. We chose to live here. We chose to have three children. I’m aware that we don’t really deserve any sympathy. But feelings can be irrational; they can go against the grain. After losing my lovely mum this year I became very homesick, searching for what would connect me to her. I wanted to surround myself with the familiar, the known. All of a sudden our privileged lifestyle here felt alien and I longed for the sanctuary of home. This was a two I most definitely wasn’t prepared for and the aftermath lingers on. Thoughts I was trying keep hidden have now bubbled to the surface.
On the rare occasion we have dinner out I’ll bore my husband senseless, bombarding him with the same questions. Are we’re doing the right thing? Will our choice affect the kids in the long term? Should we go back to London? Or somewhere completely different? How much longer will we stay? But in the perpetual swirl of work and kids, life feels blurry and we haven’t yet worked out all the answers. I can just about decide what to get for the kids’ tea never mind make crucial decisions about our future! For now we’re routed here and I am learning to embrace our tens and twos.
In the past year especially, I have come to realise that these tens and twos pop up in every aspect of our lives. Being a mum, a daughter, an employee, a friend – our lives are scattered with highs and lows. Maybe we just need to relish the tens when they come along. To stop and admire, to breathe them in. And for the twos we just need to sit them out, as my mum often told me, taking one day at a time. Accept that with good times comes more challenging ones, no matter if you’re living at home or abroad. So for now I will continue to throw myself it to our life en France. I’ll invest in new friendships, open my boys’ eyes to adventures and savour the beautiful countryside (while trying to dodge the crazy French drivers)…always on the look out for a ten.